Saturday, April 04, 2009

Lexical Error in Novice Academic Writing

Lately, I have been thinking quite a lot about what can possible go wrong with someone’s vocabulary usage when they are writing an academic essay. I’ve started to keep a running tally of all the errors I can think of, and this is my list so far. I started off by looking at the detailed marking code for the Effective Writing Test (, and I went on from there. I think some of the items in the list might overlap, but I think I’m off to a good start.

Semantic error
A word is used that had the wrong meaning for the context.

Words are used in inappropriate combinations, as in the difference between a torrential rainstorm and a torrential snowstorm*, or highly educated vs. greatly educated*.

Topic constraints
Register constraints
Genre constraints
Certain words can only be used in certain situations, depending on the topic, register and genre.

Inappropriate synonym choice
Synonyms have different connotations. An example of this is the difference between Scott is a famous teacher at the University of Calgary, and Scott is a notorious* teacher at the University of Calgary. (or maybe I am notorious . . . )

Trite language
This involves the use of clichés and overused expressions such as rabbits are not a valid food choice because they are as cute as a button. Another example would be, it’s important to think outside the box when dealing with financial problems.

Excessive jargon
This occurs when overly technical and specialized vocabulary is used when writing for a general audience.

Pretentious word choice
Big words are not necessarily better words. Overly complicated words and language are not better than simple and precise more common words and language.

Immature word choice
This occurs when writing about daddies instead of fathers, bunnies instead of rabbits, and choo-choos instead of trains.

Over repetition
The same words are used over and over again. For example: Completing high school should be mandatory. Mandatory high school classes will keep young people off the streets. If high school becomes mandatory, students will learn more. If school is mandatory, society will benefit. If it is not mandatory, there will continue to be problems. That is why a high school education must be mandatory.

Artificial variation
Too many synonyms are used making the writing seem unnatural. For example, Cats are important pets for senior citizens. Without their kitties, many old people feel lonely. Once arriving in the golden years, a feline companion is a necessity. Without pussy cats, oldsters won’t have the same quality of life. Granny and grandpa can’t do without these mini lions and tigers.

Word form
The wrong part of speech is used. Scott is a success* teacher, instead of Scott is a successful teacher.

Derivational error
This occurs when words are put together incorrectly, usually with inappropriate affixes. for example: After completing my analization* of the problem, I realize there was no solution.

Inaccurate lexical bundling
Some words operate in lexical bundles that are fairly inflexible. For example: on another hand* vs. on the other hand.

Mixed metaphor
This occurs when two different metaphors are combined. For example: We need to stop swimming against the current and follow the herd.

Inappropriate metaphor
This often happens when metaphors are translated from the first language, but they don’t quite work in the second. For example: After making many mistakes the government took a different tunnel.

This occurs when the writing is lacking transitions and connectors.

This happens when a general type of word, such as people, humans, things and stuff, is used in place of a more specific word.

Omnibus words
This occurs when the writer tries to incorrectly bring together many different ideas into a single word such as factor, aspect, situation, or concept.